April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Declared a month to educate the public about child abuse and prevention by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, worked at the federal level, to inform the American public through radio, print, television PSAs, bumper stickers and posters, about a very serious and troubling issue.
Over the years, this program has grown to include various sponsored activities on a state, county and individual organization level throughout the United States.
In the 2014 proclamation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, President Obama said, “We all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover. From parents and guardians to educators and community leaders, each of us can help carve out safe places for young people to build their confidence and pursue their dreams.”
On April 8, 2014, nurses, doctors, and volunteers planted more than 1500 pinwheels on the grounds of Meritus Medical Center. These pinwheels represent reported cases of children who were abused and neglected in Washington County, Maryland.
Andrea Blythe, RN, a forensic nurse in the emergency department at Meritus Health, and coordinator of the Interpersonal Abuse and Violence Program, stresses the importance of bringing attention to child abuse.
"Each pinwheel we plant is one case of child abuse in our county, that’s 1520 times that a child was neglected or abused that we know about,” Blythe said. “The more we talk about it, the more we shed a light on the issue, the more people will feel empowered and expected to intervene,” she said.
Children and Abuse
According to the Centers for Disease Control, child maltreatment is defined as, “all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver or another person in a custodial role.” A child can be abused physically, sexually, emotionally or by being neglected. While all children are at risk for abuse, children under the age of four and children with special needs are often at the highest risk for abuse.
As a forensic nurse, Blythe, and other nurses and doctors on her team, perform exams on adults and pediatric victims of abuse that come to the emergency department at Meritus Health. In addition to examinations, Meritus Health also provides counseling support through referrals to the emergency social work team at the emergency department.
Blythe stresses that the support that Meritus Health offers victims and families goes beyond the emergency department, and includes community referrals for any medical follow-up treatment that may be needed.
“We work to ensure that all of the patient’s questions and needs are addressed prior to discharge, and that they have a safe place to go.” Blythe said. This is accomplished by working with community programs such as CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused).
Perpetrators and Abuse
There are several factors that contribute to child abuse. The CDC says that these can include a history of abuse in the family, a constant rotation of caregivers in and out of the home, substance and/ or mental health issues experienced by a care giver or parent, parenting stress and limited financial resources.
According to a 2013 report from the CDC that provided child abuse statistics from 2011, 80 percent of children are abused by their parents and only 2.9 percent of abusers were people that the children did not know.
Child Abuse Statistics
Below, are some statistics provided by the CDC that help to outline the impact that Child abuse has on society across the spectrum.
- In 2011, child protective services (CPS), received approximately 3.7 million referrals for child abuse and neglect.
- The lifetime economic cost of handling child abuse and neglect cases in the United States totals approximately $124 billion.
- In 2011, approximately 1,750 children died as a result of child abuse.
- Non- CPS studies indicate that approximately 1 in 7 children in the U.S. experience some form of child abuse in their lifetime.
Community Resources and Help
While child abuse is a challenging topic to tackle, it must be handled directly, and with care to ensure the protection of children. Blythe echoes that sentiment, “We have to move away from a culture of silence towards a culture of protection,” she said.
Below, are some resources that victims of abuse and families can utilize for assistance in the community.
Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused-(CASA)
Provides shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. (301)-739-8975
Washington County Department of Social Services
Provides both child and adult protective services. Can assist with providing referrals to other community agencies, and financial assistance to those who qualify for services. Also handles investigations of suspected abuse (240)-313-2100 /24-hour hotline (240)-420-2222
Safe Place- Washington County Child Advocacy Center
Provides victims of sexual abuse and care takers with counseling services, interviews and medical treatment. (240)-420-4308
By Mark H. Russ